It’s not hyperbolic to say the New England Patriots’ 2023 success (or lack thereof) could rest on the shoulders of quarterback Mac Jones.
Jones, a first-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, regressed last season after an encouraging rookie campaign, but the Patriots effectively stunted his growth by deploying an unorthodox coaching alignment that saw Matt Patricia, a longtime defensive coach, call New England’s offensive plays.
NFL insider Dan Graziano published a piece Thursday on ESPN.com looking at the “biggest” quarterback questions facing each team. Understandably, his question for the Patriots centered around the potential impact of New England’s returning offensive coordinator: “Can Bill O’Brien save Mac Jones?”
The Patriots brought back O’Brien this offseason after last season’s failed play-calling experiment, and a lot of pressure is on him to bring Jones’ game to another level. Jones flashed franchise QB potential during his rookie season while working alongside Josh McDaniels, who vacated New England’s OC position last offseason to become head coach of the Las Vegas Raiders, but the Alabama product was wildly inconsistent in 2022.
Here’s what Graziano wrote regarding his Patriots quarterback question:
New England’s first-round pick in the 2021 draft, Jones showed promise as a rookie in leading the Patriots to the playoffs. But after that season, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels left to become the Raiders’ head coach, and Bill Belichick replaced him with former defensive coordinator Matt Patricia and former special teams coach Joe Judge. It didn’t work, at all, and while Patricia (who’s now in Philadelphia) was the one who took most of the external criticism for it, the fact is it was Belichick’s questionable decision that put Patricia, Judge and Jones in difficult spots.
This offseason, Belichick brought back O’Brien, who was the Pats’ OC in 2011, and he’ll be charged with getting Jones back on track. The Patriots still don’t appear to have surrounded Jones with a very inspiring group of receivers, but the hope is O’Brien’s experience on the offensive side of the ball will set things right and allow Jones to continue to develop.
Of course, it’s possible Jones’ supporting case won’t be good enough. Or maybe the Patriots’ defense takes a step in the wrong direction, ultimately dooming New England’s chances of returning to the NFL postseason. After all, the AFC East is stacked, with Jones being the clear worst quarterback in the division behind Josh Allen of the Buffalo Bills, Tua Tagovailoa of the Miami Dolphins and now Aaron Rodgers of the New York Jets.
The Patriots seem to be nearing a crossroads, having not won a playoff game since Tom Brady led New England to a Super Bowl LIII title to cap the 2018 season. And the quarterback-coach dynamic will be under a microscope as they attempt to become contenders again.